Improving the Quality of Life & Safety of Your Dog
Finalist: S. Morici
Cornell University/Auburn University DVM Program
Throughout the United States many issues exist that deteriorate the quality of life of the canine population as a whole. Tragedies such as dog fighting and animal abuse are often more common than we would like to admit, and of course, the frequency of euthanasia of shelter dogs is at an all-time high. Among these misfortunes, however, is a more silent epidemic. An issue which we have far more control over than the aforementioned – the issue of obesity. In my years of gaining animal experience and pre-requisite training for veterinary school, obesity was the number one presenting case and / or underlying disease that was seen in the clinics in which I worked. It claims the health and youthful nature of dogs through a variety of symptoms including diabetes, congestive heart failure, premature arthritis, difficulty breathing, and decreased liver function. Obesity is one of the most common canine diseases in the United States – claiming the health of forty percent of the canine population. If tackled, we could significantly improve the lives of our canine companions.
The level of obesity in canines has run in parallel with the level of obesity in the United States. The transition to quick and easy foods has almost become a must with the more demanding lifestyles that our population is living. We don’t have time to run to the store so we opt for the drive-through route instead. Albeit convenient, throwing your dog a cheeseburger or leaving out an excess of food so you “Don’t have to worry about it later” is not doing your dog any justice. In fact, you’re doing him / her more harm than good. Moreover, cheap kibbles on the market that are full of sugar and carbs do little to provide your pet with necessary nutrients, and often, they solely provide desirable taste
Just like excess intake, diets high in sugar, and fast foods are bad for us, they’re bad for our pets too. We know that obesity causes heart disease, diabetes and a myriad of other issues in humans, but people seem to overlook the possibility that excessive weight gain could have deleterious effects on their pet’s quality (and quite frankly, quantity) of life as well. Humans have 95 percent DNA conserved with canines, so it is no surprise that the food we intake reacts in our bodies in a similar manner.
Beyond the issue of diet, many dogs today are far less active due to our absence. The reason we rarely (if ever) see obesity in wild dogs isn’t because the food they’re eating is less fatty, but likely, is due to their level of exercise. They have to chase and hunt their food, and in their “down time” opt to run after each other in play. But our dogs aren’t wolves – they don’t have to hunt the kibble in their bowl in the kitchen and they don’t always have another dog to play with. Exercise is equally as crucial for our canine companions as it is for us, and if provided regularly, could dramatically improve the health of the animal of interest.
As previously stated, forty percent of household dogs in the United States are obese, but the larger issue is that most owners don’t even know that their dog’s weight is an issue. At their annual check-up they believe that gaining a few pounds is not of major concern, because for humans, gaining a few pounds isn’t a big deal. The truth of the matter is, however, that a few pounds here and there is far more than just a few pounds to a dog. In example, say one has a miniature dachshund that should weigh (on average) about ten pounds. If this animal gains two pounds, this minute amount of weight sounds almost negligible, when in reality, this animal has put on a twenty percent increase in body weight!
The level of obesity in canines in the United States isn’t for lack of care for the animal, in fact, it is probably just the opposite. Owners want to make sure their animals are well fed much like their children. However, Italian grandmother syndrome is not the kind of love the common household dog needs. Dogs need their owners to be realistic about their weight and educated about the health choices they are making for their furry friends. While many of the unhealthy dog chows are also the cheapest, one doesn’t need to be economically well-off to keep their pets health in check. In fact, education alone may tackle the issue of obesity.
Primarily, owners should take care to educate themselves. Information today is limitless, and with just the click of a button, an owner can have access to the proper weight for their animal, amongst endless other information. Not to say that one should use their Web-MD degree to treat their animal or wrestle their pit bull onto the scale once a week, but begin educating themselves by looking up consumer reviews of food and checking in with medical professionals to see what the best option for their pet is. People that work with animals do so because they love to do it, and they want to improve the lives of animals. Thus, if one brings their dog into the vet to be weighed or calls up the vet to ask which foods might be best, I don’t know a DVM in the world that wouldn’t take a minute to help their client out.
Obesity is an epidemic. Nearly half of the canine population is effected by it, and unlike other diseases, all canines have the ability to be affected by it. It is the precursor to an innumerable amount of diseases and completely deteriorates the quality of life of the animal. A component that sets this disease apart from the rest as well, is our ability to control it. It is the obligation of veterinarians, Licensed Veterinary Technicians, and those others involved in the animal field to educate the general public. Additionally, it is the obligation of pet owners to make themselves aware of what and how much they are feeding their pet, as well as to assure that their pet is exercising sufficiently. If we (the animal community) and the general public work together, we can improve the quality of life of our canine cohorts.